Russian investigators insist on charges against dead lawyer

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Russian interior ministry investigators Monday insisted lawyer Sergei Magnitsky, who died in jail one year ago, was criminally responsible for an embezzlement scam, despite an outcry over his death.

Magnitsky died on November 16, 2009 aged just 37 after a year locked up in a Moscow jail without ever having been convicted of a crime in a case that has become a cause celebre for rights activists.

He had been charged with tax evasion in connection with his work for investment fund Hermitage Capital Management fund but supporters contend his only offence was to expose foul play by top Russian officials.

The spokeswoman for interior ministry investigators, Irina Dudukina, said that evidence from two recently arrested businessmen had confirmed Magnitsky's involvement.

"The version of Magnitsky's involvement in the embezzlement of 5.4 billion rubles (175 million dollars)" is based on their evidence, she told a news conference, Russian news agencies reported.

She also denied that Magnitsky was a lawyer, saying that "he was an economist by education and worked as an accountant for the Hermitage fund." In this role, "he worked out a tax evasion scheme."

Hermitage Capital angrily hit back at the charges, saying the announcement was timed to coincide with the anniversary of his death.

"The interior ministry is trying to besmirch the name of Sergei Magnitsky, who in essence they killed in prison, using the fact that Sergei is no longer alive and cannot respond," it said in a statement.

© 2010 AFP

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